Your attention, please: No Braves pitcher has been named the National League’s rookie of the year. Only two were awarded the (since-discontinued) rookie pitcher of the year award given by The Sporting News: Steve Bedrosian in 1982 and Craig McMurtry in 1983.
At this moment, Tommy Hanson must be considered no worse than the league’s second-best rookie, behind only fellow pitcher J.A. Happ of Philadelphia, who’s 7-0 with an ERA of 2.68. (Colby Rasmus of St. Louis, considered the ealry leader, is hitting .265 with 34 RBIs.) Hanson is 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA. He yielded six earned runs in his first big-league start, 12 in the seven starts since. On Monday he struck out 11 Giants in seven innings. He is, in a word, good.
But even good rookies, as we know, are rookies. Hanson hasn’t hit his rough patch yet, and we’ll see how he fares when he sees an opponent a second time. (His first eight starts have come against eight different clubs.) So there’s your boilerplate disclaimer. And now we can commence with the flattering comparisons and contrasts.
Zane Smith was 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA as a rookie in 1985. Tom Glavine in 1987: 2-4, 5.54. John Smoltz in 1988: 2-7 and 5.48. Pete Smith in 1988: 7-15, 3.69. Steve Avery in 1990: 3-11, 5.64. Kevin Millwood in 1997: 5-3, 4.03. Horacio Ramirez in 2003 12-4, 4.00. Chuck James in 2006: 11-4, 3.78.
Not one of those received even a third-place vote for rookie of the year. Dating back to 1979, only 10 first-year Braves pitchers have drawn an ROY vote, and only two commanded a first-place ballot — Kerry Ligtenber got one in 1998, and McMurtry got six in 1983. The full list of ROY finishers:
Special mention must go to Kyle Davies, who didn’t allow a run in his first 14 big-league innings — he famously won his first start in Fenway Park — and finished the 2005 season 7-6 with a 4.93 ERA. But Davies started only one game after Aug. 4 and worked as many as seven innings once in 14 starts. (Davies was traded to Kansas City for Octavio Dotel in 2007 and is now in the minors.)
Also to Larry McWilliams, who in 1978 began his major-league career 7-0 and finished the season 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA. (Another Brave was named rookie of the year that season, a guy named Horner.) And also to Ron Reed, who was 11-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 1968 and who even made the All-Star team that year.
Still, the benchmark for Atlanta Braves rookie pitchers is McMurtry, who became the most reliable starter on a team that led the NL West most of 1983 before being overhauled by the Dodgers in September. He finished seventh in the Cy Young voting, and most seasons he’d have been a runaway rookie of the year. But there was another hot rookie then, one who played in New York. Guy named Strawberry.
So that’s who Hanson is chasing for Atlanta honors. Not Glavine, not Smoltz, not even Avery, but a Texan who wore glasses and whose first name, seldom used, was Joe. And who, on June 4, 1986, with two out in the fifth inning at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, yielded the first career home run to Barry Lamar Bonds.
(Personal note: I was there. I wrote a sidebar about Bonds that night. And I closed with his answer to a question about having to face the famous Dwight Gooden in the Pirates’ next series. Quoth Bonds: “Hey, Dwight Gooden has to face me.”)
(Personal plug: I’ll be chatting live from the ballpark today during the Braves-Giants game. We’ll get started around 12:30 p.m. and keep going until the cows come home, as Joe Craig McMurtry might say. Stop by and say howdy, won’t you?)